Giving The Wave

On our recent trip to the Pine Tree State, we stopped in Camden, Maine to visit some art galleries.  “Stop Wait Wave” is painted on the sidewalk next to the crosswalks on Camden’s busy main street, substituting for a Walk/Don’t Walk sign.

The painted sidewalk notice is similar to the x-shaped “Stop, look, and listen” signs that you used to see at railroad crossings.  In Driver’s Ed class we were taught that you were supposed to stop at the railroad tracks, look both ways to see if the crossing was clear, and then turn off the radio and listen for the whistle of an approaching train before you decided to proceed.  The “Stop Wait Wave” signs are based on the same principle, except the “wave” is to ensure that you’ve alerted the oncoming drivers that you’re crossing.

As a committed pedestrian, I’m a big fan of the wave when you cross the street — especially in these days of distracted, texting drivers.  In fact, I give the wave even when I’m crossing with a “Walk” sign.   The wave is a friendly gesture, and the motion can help to get the driver’s attention.  If you wave and you get some kind of wave, nod, smile, or other acknowledgement from the driver in response, you can be pretty sure that the driver isn’t going to proceed into the intersection and knock you down.  It’s a sound defensive walking strategy, and it was nice to see that the Camden, Maine authorities agree with my view.

If it were up to me, I’d paint “Stop Wait Wave” on every downtown Columbus crosswalk.

The Walker’s Wave

You’re walking down the street, minding your own business on a pretty spring morning.  When you reach an intersection where there are cars approaching that are getting ready to turn right into your path, so long as you’ve got the walk sign you can proceed directly into the intersection, knowing that you’ve got the right of way.  Right?

Well, that’s what the law says, but this is one of those instances where the law doesn’t really match up well with the practical realities of life.

920x920Commuters are our friends and neighbors, but things can change when they get behind the wheel, even in friendly Columbus, Ohio.  In their cars they’re in their own little cocoon of leather and steel, with the radio playing and other thoughts on their mind.  Many of the approaching drivers likely are stressed, potentially distracted, and eager to get to where they are going as fast as possible.  They’re not bad people, but often they seem to be focused on just about anything other than the possibility of walkers entering that intersection.

So after a few instances where drivers have abruptly turned into the intersection while I am in the crosswalk and cut me off because they think they can squeeze through before I fully make it across the street — and it can be a pretty harrowing experience when a massive SUV or oversized pick-up truck rolls by a foot or so in front of you — I’ve taken a new approach.  Now I try to look directly at the first approaching car in line, make eye contact with the driver, and give them a little wave to let them know that I’m there and I appreciate their forbearance while I walk through the intersection.  It’s the same kind of wave, for example, that you traditionally give if you’re in your car trying to change lanes and a Good Samaritan eases off and lets you move over.  

I think this “walker’s wave” serves two functions.  First, it reveals you to be a human being, and the little “thank you” wave seems like a friendly gesture in the hurly burly of the modern world.  Second, if you can get a return wave from the driver, you know for sure they’ve actually seen you and will let you pass — and maybe they will feel good about their forbearance and will keep an eye out for us walkers in the future.

These days, it can’t hurt to look for little opportunities to acknowledge our common humanity.